I Am Protective

It’s that time of the year again — when non-profits make their annual year-end giving appeals. With so many worthy organizations to choose from, here’s something to think about: making choices that count twice in supporting people with special needs.

“Double giving” is when a business or individual supports an organization that provides opportunities for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities. It’s something that Protective Life Corporation has done for years by supporting organizations that hire with people with special needs.

For instance, Protective has long supported organizations like Birmingham-based Workshops Inc., which provides job training and placement for the disabled and people with barriers to employment. The goal is to place as many individuals as possible into jobs within the community. Others work at Workshops Inc. headquarters, performing duties such as assembling and packing, mail services, and collating/folding.

Clients, who are referred from agencies and organizations throughout the community, work one-on-one with employment specialists who help assess their needs and skills and identify the best training and job placements.

“Our goal is for everyone who comes through our doors to reach their highest potential vocationally,” says Mary Hendley, Workshops Inc. Director of Marketing and Development.

The community impact of organizations like Workshops is great. They have provided more than 100 employees to serve over 350 businesses such as Protective, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, and Vulcan Materials.

“It’s important that people know that individuals with special needs have the same interests and desires as everyone else,” says Tricia Kirk, Director of the Exceptional Foundation, which provides a variety of programs for adults with special needs. “They want to be productive members of society and to know that they are needed. Work is a part of all of our identities, whether or not we have special needs.”

Exceptional Foundation clients are employed at places like Workshops, Inc., as well as many other businesses throughout Birmingham. These businesses are diverse in their work: Exceptional Foundation clients work at supermarkets such as Publix and Piggly Wiggly, restaurants like the Olive Garden, and even with a dog trainer (Creative Dog Training). They also work for landscaping companies, country clubs, and corporations — and even at Protective.

“It’s a win-win for employees and for employers,” according to Hendley. “The employer gets an employee that has been vetted and trained. Unlike traditional employment services, there is no cost to the business,” she says. Workshops Inc. employment specialists work with their clients to make sure they have the necessary skills to master jobs, and full understanding of their responsibilities. “Plus we also make sure we provide follow-up support to ensure that the transition goes smoothly,” Hendley says.

“When a business hires our people, it helps them see firsthand that they are productive members of society,” Kirk says. Plus the learning goes both ways. “It’s great for their colleagues to interact with people with special needs. They too learn that these are people entitled to what everyone else has. Plus they are very good workers, taking great pride in their jobs. They are loyal and good employees, rule followers who take their jobs seriously.”

She says we’ll only see the trend of the hiring of people with special needs increase.

Another aspect of double giving is its impact on caregivers. Employment provides much-needed respite for caregivers, who are often overlooked. And since medical and living expenses for these families can be very expensive, Exceptional Foundation works to keep fees low.

So, how can you participate in double giving? If you are hiring, consider employing a person with special needs. Also, patronize businesses that employ people with special needs. For instance, Protective uses Gone for Good, a company that employs people with special needs, to shred documents.

Not in the position to hire? Donations to organizations like Exceptional Foundation and Workshops Inc. support their programs, including life skills and social training that, in turn, help clients be placed in jobs in which they can earn their own wages and gain self-confidence.

Your business — and life — will be all the better for it.

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